Making a list, checking it twice: Preparing for Winter Break

Here’s a few things to consider before Winter Break:

1. You need time to relax and decompress. Research on teacher well-being shows that this time is critical for you to recharge. Your families need you. You need to focus on them, and doing nice things for yourself. As professionals, there will always be more work to do. Now is not the time to try to do it, because you’ll just end up with more to do.

2. Don’t take a large stack of papers home to grade. If you do it, you’ll be miserable. If you don’t do it, you’ll be miserable Sunday night before we return. Nothing is worse than bringing papers home to grade then having to bring them back ungraded (which is why I swore off bringing papers home years ago). If your New Year’s resolution is to grade more often, being defeated over break isn’t the way to start. You will have planning time during exam week where you can catch up on grades if you still need to.

3. Unplug devices –coffee pots/Keurigs, TVs, lights, etc.– but not your computer (updates may run over break but you can turn it off and they’ll still run). Bloomingdale’s media center caught on fire on Christmas Day one year (due to no fault of a teacher, but a contractor doing renovations). There’s nothing more heartbreaking than hearing about that on Christmas Day and coming back to work to a soggy room full of ruined books (my apologies to English teachers who just died a little on the inside).

4. Make copies of your review materials now. Come back with a fresh start on Monday. Do everything you can now to prep the room, materials and lessons. Don’t have that Sunday night guilty feeling (which isn’t a bad New Year’s resolution–turning that feeling into one of excitement because you know your class/lesson is ready to go).

5. Get all food out of the classroom. Tis the season for holiday cultural celebrations, but coming back to bugs and other creatures isn’t pleasant. That means your emergency chocolate stash too (I know I can’t be the only one).

6. Give some love to your custodian. Maybe your hall can collect for a gift card (we did in my old classroom area). Find where you can deliver leftover treats to custodians instead of throwing them away. And please, with those holiday cultural celebrations, try to take out the trash yourself when possible (or least get extra bags–the mounds of plates and cups spilling out of the trash isn’t fun to deal with–multiply it by their hall assignments and Friday is a terrible day for them).

7. If you have a window, close your blinds and make sure the windows are locked. Keep valuables locked away to not make the school a tempting target for theft.

8. I hope my mentees take the Starbucks gift card I gave them and go enjoy a warm drink with someone you love. We are teachers because we care, and we need to remember to nourish our other relationships too.

Hope you all have a safe, wonderful, restful break!

Review Strategies

The most important thing I hope my mentees take away is to not just hand your students a packet of questions to answers or terms to define and walk away! Students need quality instruction and processing time to truly understand all of the material from this semester. Here are some strategies for review.

Student Created Questions
Some of your best questions can start with students. If they write them, they can understand content better (and there’s less work for you!) I recommend showing them Costa’s levels of questioning and pushing them towards Level 2 and 3 questions, as they’ll be more likely to see that on exams and EOCs. Check out this link for more, including stems for various content ares.

In this Kagan strategy, students create a question card. They then find a partner, quiz them on the card, answer the other students’ card, then trade cards. The students then find a new partner, and ask their new question. See this link for more detailed instructions and some variations on this method.

Break up your content into small chunks and assign it to different groups to present. I often ask them to make a poster with requirements to have a visual, and key information. This will look different depending on your content. You can also do variation where each student in that group writes a question then you create mixed groups, where a member from each table comes together with new questions.

With Foldables, students create their own visual/kinethetic study guide to review material. See the attachments for instructions and examples. This link goes to a social studies Foldable guide with tons of creative ideas on how to use them. Here’s another awesome link to more great Foldable and review ideas, including graphic organizers. There’s some science-specific content too.

With Kahoot, you can make multiple choice questions into trivia games. The students love it, but they need devices and WiFi to do it. Note that there’s many Kahoots that already exist, but they may not meet the needs of your students. Do preview all content! Making one is very easy too, and if one person in your PLC does it, then you could share with all (or jigsaw it, like where each PLC member makes one for different units)! Better yet, if you do the Jigsaw questions above, have each group pick their best question. As the students mingle together sharing their own questions, make a quick 5 question Kahoot with their own questions. Bragging rights, or extra credit to winners makes it even more fun and competitive! (Often, when all students are finished with their exam, we’ll go back for fun and play the Disney trivia or other previewed pop culture ones. It’s a great way to build community!)

There are Powerpoint templates out there that make the game playable as a PPT. If you need one, go this link (that also has other run review games). You can also go to this link for a web based version. You can add rigor by making students discuss their answers and come to consensus, or by using student created questions.

I like Quizlet because the students can download an app on their device and study with flashcards that go everywhere with them. They’re easy to create, and on a computer they can play games with the content, like Space Race, or matching games. I recommend demoing it so students take advantage of the power of it. Quizlet is also great for you as you study for your subject area or Professional Educator exam–for many tests, people have already shared their flashcard sets so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!